Ken Salazar still in hot seat -- but with lots of company

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is still getting roundly pummeled in the press over the Obama administration's response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

But there's increasing evidence that the administration is trying to shift the faltering Coloradoan out of the spotlight and find other, less compromised figures to take point in the crisis.

As I noted in this post, Salazar is facing not only the predictable attacks from the GOP (who badly want to heap blame on Obama "dithering" rather than British Petroleum's recklessness), but also from former fans on the left, who have found his vowed reform of the Minerals Management Service too anemic and his plans to expand offshore drilling (put on hold, understandably, since the BP spill) abhorrent.

As one strategy after another to plug the leak fails miserably, the chorus of boobirds keeps growing.

Thirty-six enviro groups have signed a petition calling for Salazar's resignation, and his "high-profile stumbles" have been fodder for critics from Politico to local pundit David Sirota. The Secretary has been particularly savaged by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a whistleblower group that has been unhappy with Salazar's consensus-building plodding from the start.

One recent bombshell from PEER points out the weirdness of the BP oil-spill response plan for the Gulf, filed last year, which suggests no one in Salazar's department actually read the blamed thing. Here's an excerpt of the material PEER found a bit odd:

• Lists "Sea Lions, Seals, Sea Otters [and] Walruses" as "Sensitive Biological Resources" in the Gulf, suggesting that portions were cribbed from previous Arctic exploratory planning;

• Gives a web site for a Japanese home shopping site as the link to one of its "primary equipment providers for BP in the Gulf of Mexico Region [for] rapid deployment of spill response resources on a 24 hour, 7 days a week basis"; and

• Directs its media spokespeople to never make "promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal," implying that BP will only commit candor by omission.

With the heat cranking up on Salazar, the White House has apparently designated someone else to serve as chief spokesperson and tireless spill manager in the disaster: Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, that steady hand in New Orleans after Katrina. The adoring columns about him are just starting, and this one by Eugene Robinson contrasts Allen with the increasingly snappish, stressed-out Salazar.

To be fair, Salazar isn't the only member of the administration to have seemed at sea in the past few weeks. There's no quick fix to a mess of this magnitude -- and plenty of blame to go around. But it's clear that the White House has figured out it needs a calmer, less frustrated voice to soothe the public and smart-aleck reporters while the experts try to figure out a solution to the unprecedented disaster facing the Gulf Coast.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast